Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christianity and Christmas

A few days ago, I got a newsletter from a writer who wants to defend and advance New Testament Christianity. Guess what one of the articles is about. Big hint: It's the December issue.

That's right, time to break out all of those arguments against anyone thinking himself to be a faithful Christian while remembering the birth of Jesus between September and the first of Spring.

The article begins with the writer's appreciation for Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." And, he says, there's so much more that's good about this season.

Snow on December 25th? That's good. Presents? Good. Families together? Good. Eating? Good. Christmas trees? They're good too.

But Christians "conducting special Christmas services"? Now that's bad! In fact, it's right to question any group who would highlight the birth of Jesus at this time of year simply (and I quote), "because we want to do so."

I can only hope that this brother means well. But if he does, then I really wish he'd take another look at Paul's Letter to the Romans. There the Scripture says that if someone wants to consider one day more special than another, then that's between him and God. And if someone decides to tell this special-day Christian that he's wrong or bad, then God wants to ask that someone, "Why do you judge your brother? Why do you look down on him? Won't each one give an account of himself?" (see Romans 14:1-12).

But, of course, Romans 14 isn't the passage quoted in the article. Instead, the writer goes to Galatians 4:10-11, which says, "You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest by any means I have labored for you in vain."

Now, I'm guessing that our writer would be among the first to say that the words of Scripture can only be understood in context, and that the immediate literary context, the surrounding paragraph, is the really critical part.

So then, what is the immediate context of the statement in Galatians 4? It appears that Christians who had gotten off to good start with God were now turning back to serve "weak and miserable principles." Their observance of special times was not something done towards God (the Romans scenario). Rather, their observance was meant as obedience to former masters who never even held the true status of "gods" (Galatians 4:8-11). It's a vast difference.

In the New Testament, the question is not, "May we observe special days?" Rather, the question is, "Why do you want to observe special days, and who is the object of your devotion?" If the practice is some kind of supplement to faith in Christ or different from devotion to God, then forget it. Don't do it. But if you want to do it because you love God, trust in his Son, and for some reason that time means something special to you, then by all means, do it to the honor of your Lord.

Now, which one of those two alternatives describes a congregation that wants to remember and honor the birth of Christ at this time of year?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

isn't romans talking about observing a sabath?

Frank Bellizzi said...

Anonymous,

I don't see the word sabbath in Romans 14. It could be that sabbath observance is the question at hand. But it's significant that Paul broadens the issue: "one man considers one day more sacred than another" (verse 5). Clearly, the principle he enunciates here applies to more than sabbath observance.

Leland & Jackie said...

The older I get (fortunately, it is only at the rate of 12 months per year, although it feels faster), the less time I have for those who seem to spend most of their time being against something. There are so many good things about Christmas that communicate God's love to our world; it is not a worthy use of time to hunt for the problems.
Walking in the Grace of God,
Leland

Steve Duer said...

As one who just finished helping preach through Advent and direct a Christmas play, I think you can see where I land on this issue.

Actually, I found the idea of advent to be more enjoyable than just celebrating Christmas.

I get to preach on Christmas morning. I am glad I don't have to think too hard about my topic for that day. I think my group will be ready to hear it bacause many of them will be in the same place. Why would I pass up that opprotunity?

Greg Newton said...

So why bother reading such stuff? Beyond simply making Christmas Christ-centered so we might use it evangelistically, maybe we go back to ancient practices of aligning our lives around a Christian calendar instead of a secular one! The Christian new year began with Advent and the preparatio for his ocming, and creates in us disciplines of daliy consciousness of God.

Joel Maners said...

I always thought that it was sad that the COC had jettisoned the whole christian calendar. It's just insane that it's ok to dresup like a ghoul on Hallween but if you mention All Saints Day, chuirch folk will howl. And it's al right to mention Santa, but heaven help us if we mention St. Nicholas' Feast Day or the Advent.

Joel Maners said...

I always thought that it was sad that the COC had jettisoned the whole christian calendar. It's just insane that it's ok to dresup like a ghoul on Hallween but if you mention All Saints Day, chuirch folk will howl. And it's al right to mention Santa, but heaven help us if we mention St. Nicholas' Feast Day or the Advent.